It was a great night in California this Sunday evening when Tony Bennett came to the historic Granada Theater as the special season opener for the UCSB Arts & Lectures Program in Santa Barbara! We had the chance to cover and review this event in depth for the entire fanbase and it was an incredible evening for all who attended.
Mr. Bennett is currently touring and supporting his and Lady Gaga’s brand new album, “Cheek To Cheek”, which, as so many of you superfans know, has just hit Number One on the Billboard Charts around the world this past week!
I hope you will enjoy this re-telling of a beautiful evening with a legend of multi-generational modern music. Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett are both interested in expanding the musical knowledge-base of their fans, in both directions. The great over-arching purpose of “Cheek To Cheek”, besides being an excellent and fun album, is for Bennett fans to see Gaga’s true underlying talents, and for Gaga fans to be introduced to the beauty and history in Tony’s works. We felt the visit to this concert was the perfect opportunity to bridge the gap, just as Gaga and Tony have done together in the making of “Cheek To Cheek”.
Originally, this concert, in sunny Santa Barbara, California, was to be held on October 2nd, 2014, but was cancelled due to a massive city-wide power outage, likely caused by record heat in the area that day that topped 97 degrees. Tony Bennett graciously agreed to make up the lost event, and the theater even installed a special back up generator, to be on the safe side.
Very pleased to be opening the show for her father, she commented on the “gorgeous theater” at the Granada and warmed the crowd up with a jazzy rendition of “Teach Me Tonight” and “Taking A Chance On Love”. Ms. Bennett has a beautiful clear voice, at once mellow and at the turn of a note, upbeat and perky. Listening to her sing, you could be transported to a different era and time with the classy way she delivered her lyrics. Antonia told some great anecdotal backstories about her experiences and connections to the songs.
Here’s Antonia’s set list, with a deeper look at the composers and eras the songs were recorded in, and some of her memories about them.
1. “Teach Me Tonight” (Sammy Cahn & Gene De Paul) circa 1953.
(Made famous by Etta James and Frank Sinatra, this song is considered a jazz standard.)
2. “Takin’ A Chance On Love” (Vernon Duke) circa 1940.
(Made famous by Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, & Rosemary Clooney (George Clooney’s aunt, by the way!))
3. “Always On My Mind” (Mark James & Wayne Carson) circa 1972.
(Made famous by Brenda Lee, Elvis, and Willie Nelson)
Antonia goes into detail about this song and the following song in the set:
“Recently, about 8 months ago, we were in Nashville, which as you know is a great city for music, and there was an amazing artist there by the name of Brenda Lee, a wonderful singer. I got to sing Always On My Mind for her, a song that she first introduced.”
She continued by saying that it was thrilling for her to travel all around the world with her dad, Tony Bennett, and to be able to spend so much time with him.
“It’s also wonderful as an artist, because he really is such a master at what he does. Every night, I watch him. I sit in the wings, right there, and he’s always teaching me something new. So, Dad, this song’s for you…”
4. “You’re A Lucky Guy” (by Sammy Cahn and Saul Chaplin) circa 1939.
(Made famous by Billie Holiday)
The song “You’re A Lucky Guy”, was written by Sammy Cahn. Antonia told us that he was her neighbor growing up across the street, and when she was a little girl, she would pack her suitcase and run away to Sammy’s house! She confided in us, “I thought I had a big plan..!” to much laughter.
5. “Sail Away” (by Noel Coward) circa 1961.
(Made famous by Elaine Stritch in 1961 and later The Pet Shop Boys in 1999)
6. “From This Moment On” (by Cole Porter) circa 1951.
(Made famous by the musical “Kiss Me Kate”, and by Frank Sinatra)
At the end of her set, Antonia thanked us for attending…
“Thank you so much, I’m glad you could be here tonight. Buy my new record on iTunes or Amazon, it’s called “Embrace Me.”
(You can check out Antonia’s work here!)
As Antonia left the stage to great applause throughout the Granada, the theater’s lights darkened and an annoucer’s voice rose above the subsiding din.
“And now, a message from Frank Sinatra!” the voice boomed.
The crackling of an old recording resonated across the darkened theater for all of us to hear, bearing Ol’ Blue Eye’s message from years gone by:
“Tony’s gonna come on now and he’s gonna tear the seats out of the place for ya, because he’s my man, this cat. I said it publicly in the paper and I’m gonna say it again, he’s the greatest thing in the world today, this man, Mr. Tony Bennett!”
The theater began to roar in applause. A spotlight shone as Mr. Tony Bennett walked out and smiled and waved to everyone. The musicians launched into the opening bars of Frank Sinatra’s jazz classic, “Watch What Happens”, and Tony debonairly stepped forward to sing for all of us.
Here’s what Tony’s setlist was comprised of, along with some of his stories about the songs as he remembered them
1. “Watch What Happens” (by Michel Legrand, Norman Gimble) circa 1964.
(Made famous by Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, & Michel Legrand)
Tony was enthusiastic and beamed at all of us in the crowd. “Thank you very much for coming by tonight!!” he declared with a smile. Then he sang the first song of the evening off of “Cheek To Cheek”:
2. “They All Laughed” (by George and Ira Gershwin) circa 1937.
(Made famous by Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby)
To hear Tony sing this track from the new album with Gaga was a treat. His voice has lost none of it’s vigor from the album and he nailed the song, even without a partner to spar the lines with. The audience whooped and clapped heartily at that one.
3. “Maybe This Time” (by Fred Ebb and John Kander) circa 1972.
(Made famous in the Liza Minelli film, “Cabaret”.)
Pianist Mike Renzi put a sweeping spin on “Maybe This Time” to give Tony a big bridge leading up to an equally big finish… “Everybody loves a winner… Maybe this time… I’ll win!!” Tony sang out, voice undimmed by age, causing all the patrons to applaud in cheers for him.
4. “I Got Rhythm” (by George & Ira Gershwin) circa 1930.
(Commonly known to be one of the founding pieces of true jazz, this one became a foundation for jazz standards for generations. It was made famous by Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, and Gene Kelly)
Becoming the true jazz cat, Tony snapped his fingers and sang this one out, bouncing along with the familiar beat. “I got rhythm, I got music, I got my gal, who could ask for anything more?” Guitarist Grey Sargent performed a nimble accompaniment alongside Tony’s voice. Tony congratulated him mid-song. “Grey Sargent, ladies and gentlemen!” He then threw a compliment to his drummer: “Harold Jones, Count Basie’s favorite drummer!” We clapped approvingly as he dove back into the song… “who could ask for, anything more…” he scatted the end in true jazz style.
5. “Stranger In Paradise” (Robert White, George Forrest) circa 1953.
(Made famous by Tony Bennett)
Tony and his band stripped this one down to it’s essential core with very minimal piano and bass, which allowed the audience to truly focus on his masterful voice. One could imagine him serenading Gaga herself with this!
There is an enduring beauty, a timeless beauty in these lyrics:
“Take my hand
I’m a stranger in paradise
All lost in a wonderland
A stranger in paradise
If I stand starry-eyed
That’s the danger in paradise
For mortals who stand beside an angel like you.”
6. “Sing, You Sinners” (by W. Frank Harling & Sam Coslow) circa 1930.
(Made famous by Tony Bennett in 1950)
Great song with bouncy appeal and cute lyrics, Tony encouraged us to sing our sins away as the Devil doesn’t like music! The audience responded well to this song, clapping and hollering.
As the applause died down, Tony inquired what we thought of his daughter Antonia.
“Isn’t she sweet?”
Everyone clapped. Antonia joined him on stage to the crowd’s delight.
7. “Old Friends” (Hey Old Friend) (by Steven Sondheim) circa 1981.
(Made famous by the 1981 play “Merrily We Roll Along”)
The music picked up to a light gambol and Tony announced just two words to us: “Steven Sondheim.” The audience ooh’ed and ahh’ed slightly. Tony and Antonia took turns dancing and singing. When it was Tony’s turn to dance, the audience broke into claps to see him twirl opposite his daughter. It was a great thing to think that having fun and dancing, even at Tony’s age of 88, is not an impossible thing to hope to do at all, if we are as lucky as Tony has been to live that long!
8. “Steppin’ Out with My Baby” (Irving Berlin) circa 1948.
(made famous by the film “Easter Parade” with Judy Garland and Fred Astaire)
9. “But Beautiful” (by Jimmy Van Heusen & Johnny Burke) circa 1947.
(Made famous by Billie Holiday, Tony Bennett, and Nat King Cole).
This was the second song of the night from the new album “Cheek to Cheek”, and it took a slower pace than in the album, with an extended piano piece by Mike Renzi that set the tone for Tony’s voice to gently caress the words… great love song, great for slow dancing. The audience loved it and clapped their enthusiasm as Tony closed the last note.
10. “The Best Is Yet To Come” (by Cy Coleman) circa 1959.
(Made famous by Frank Sinatra, but originally written for and sung by Tony Bennett!)
11.”The Way You Look Tonight” (by Jerome Kern) circa 1936.
(Made famous by Bing Crosby, Billie Holiday, and Frank Sinatra)
This song started out slow and easy but the band pepped it up in the middle to a nice bouncy trot. Tony sung at a good clip and wound it down to a big finish, as he easily landed the ending notes.
He spoke to us after that song: “I’ve been singing 60 years now!” to our great applause.
12. “Just In Time” (by Jule Styne) circa 1956.
(Made famous by Tony Bennett, Dean Martin, and Frank Sinatra)
13. “The Boulevard Of Broken Dreams” (by Al Dubin & Harry Warren) circa 1933.
(Made famous by Tony Bennett)
Tony introduced this song, “The Boulevard Of Broken Dreams”, by saying it was one of the first songs he had ever recorded, in 1950.
14. “The Good Life” (Sacha Distel & Jack Reardon) circa 1934.
(Made famous by Tony Bennett)
Tony paused in the middle of this song to dedicate it to a very special Lady we all know and love…
“I’d like to dedicate this song to my wonderful friend, Lady Gaga,” Tony began.
The Granada Theater erupted in applause and cheers, perhaps half hoping she would appear.
“I don’t know if you know, but our album went to Number One, all over the world!”
More applause came from the wings, the floor, and the balconies.
Tony turned humorous for a moment, winking out of one eye as he told us all, “I’d like you to buy the record because she really needs the money!” Everyone giggled and laughed, and gave him a partial standing ovation across the theater.
15. “Once Upon A Time” (Charles Strouse and Lee Adams) circa 1962.
(Made famous by Perry Como and Tony Bennett)
16. “The Shadow Of Your Smile” (Johnny Mandel) circa 1965.
(Made famous by Tony Bennett)
17. “One for My Baby” (And One More For The Road) (Harold Arlen) circa 1943.
(Made famous by Fred Astaire, Frank Sinatra, and Tony Bennett).
Tony bantered slightly with us when the song hit the line, “Put another nickle in the [jukebox] machine”. He stopped singing. “Nickle?!?” he declared, as if to say, “Yeah, right!” The audience snickered. Nothing is a nickle anymore!
18. “For Once In My Life” (by Ron Miller) circa 1966.
(Made famous by Tony Bennett and Stevie Wonder)
19. “I’m Old Fashioned” (by Jerome Kern & Johnny Mercer) circa 1942.
(Made famous by Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland, and Tony Bennett)
20. “I Left My Heart In San Francisco” (by George Cory) circa 1953.
(Made famous by Tony Bennett)
This is Tony Bennett’s signature song. He did an excellent job delivering it, with every emotion tuned to the moment, and the audience was riveted to him, to the point where, when he paused, you really could have heard a pin drop. It was such an easy song to listen to. After he’d finished, he asked a question of the audience:
“Do you like the old songs better than the new ones?”
The crowd, mostly over 40 years old, whooped and clapped. “Well, in 1942, a song was written that I [later] recorded, and the record company said, “You never do new songs, you only do the old songs!” And I said to them, “That’s because the old ones are better than the new ones!” This drew laughter and claps from all levels of the theater, as people all around nodded their heads in agreement.
21. “Who Cares?” (George and Ira Gershwin) circa 1942.
(Made famous by Fred Astaire, Ella Fitzgerald, and Judy Garland)
Tony continued to tell us more: “George and Ira Gershwin wrote the most contemporary song that you could ever think of in 1942, and it pertains to the way this great country is today.”
He sang out the lyrics:
“Let it rain and thunder, Let a million firms go under… I am not concerned with, Stocks and bonds that I’ve been burned with!”
This resonated with the audience, as they could easily see the modern-day comparisions with the failures of firms like Lehman Brothers, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac back in 2008.
22. “Smile” (Charlie Chaplin) circa 1936.
(Made famous by Charlie Chaplin and Tony Bennett)
Two of the songs Tony sang towards the end of the evening with had to do with smiling, which he did so much of the night as he sang to us. Before singing the song “Smile”, he told a great story about receiving a letter from Switzerland that read, “Thank you for reviving my song”, signed by Charlie Chaplin, the original composer! Tony closed out the show by leading the crowd in singing the words to “When You’re Smiling” (The Whole World Smiles With You).
23. “When You’re Smiling (The Whole World Smiles With You)” (by Larry Shea and Joe Goodwin) circa 1929.
(Made famous by Louie Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, and Tony Bennett)
He received multiple standing ovations throughout his encore set, and the clapping and cheering went on even after he’d left the stage…
It’s safe to say that all of the 1,550+ people who attended the show at the Granada that night left with smiles on their faces. Tony delivered approximately 70 minutes of great jazzy musical escape, punctuated with good humor and his legendary unchanged voice.
I was very lucky to get the chance to meet with Mr. Bennett after the show. We spoke of Gaga and the upcoming residency shows he will be holding with her, including an upcoming gig at Radio City Music Hall.
Tony was warm and friendly, and the epitome of a gracious gentleman! Besides the fact that he is a living musical legend, I can see why Lady Gaga loves him so much. He shook my hand and looked straight into my eyes as he spoke with me.
I told him I worked for GagaDaily.com and RadioARTPOP.com, and that we had covered tonight’s show for the fans.
“Oh really? That’s wonderful. We are gonna go see her this weekend in London.” He smiled and
said “We’re going to London. We are doing a whole tour next year. Radio City [Music Hall], Albert Hall… It’s gonna be great.”
Great, indeed! I know I’m not alone when I say that all of us can’t wait to see the success of The Lady and Tony Bennett on tour in 2015.
You can purchase tickets to the following announced Gaga/Bennett concerts here, for the 12-31-2014 New Years Eve performance and the 2-8-2015 Post Grammy performance.
Tickets to Tony Bennett’s show can be bought here. He has approximately 10 more dates left in his current tour with Antonia, spanning the US and Canada.
You can visit Tony and say hi on his Twitter account, @itstonybennett and through a special subscription service on his official site here. All the details on the Cheek To Cheek album can be found here.
A lot of thanks is due to the sponsors and visionaries who made the event at the Granada possible, specifically to Lady Leslie Ridley-Tree, the Campaign for Arts & Lectures at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and to Lynda.com’s Lynda Weinman, among others.
The Granada Theater is a historic landmark in Downtown Santa Barbara, and you can learn more about them and upcoming concerts here.
The Campaign For Arts and Lectures’ entire purpose is to educate, entertain, and inspire.
You can find out more about their programs and events here.
I would like to extend my extra special thanks to both Karna Hughes and Cathy Oliverson of the UCSB Arts & Lectures program for their assistance in making this article possible.
Thanks for reading.
— Katharine Styles-Burroughs